It was an hour shy of midnight, and we were outside for our last constitutional of the evening when a series of high-pitched chittering chirps came streaming out of the rhododendron bushes. From which, I could see from across the yard, the back halves of my two dogs stuck out, tails wagging furiously.
“Jasper! Lilah! Get out of there!” Whatever was in the bushes was probably not in the mood to be confronted by the front parts of two nosy, exuberant dogs.
As I ran toward them, I ticked off the possibilities. Neighbor’s cat? I dismissed the idea, even though the scraggly mop-and-dirt-colored thing had a history of teasing my dogs and stalking my sparrows. Squirrel? Nope. It was not a proper time for those bird-food thieves to be out and about. Besides, they all know to hightail it up the nearest tree at the first jingle of a dog collar. Bird? Nah. Not on the ground. Not at night.
By the time I got close, the dogs were fully immersed in the bushes. There was a high-pitched angry buzzing mixed in with the chirps. Then: “fffttt, fffttt, fffttt,” a spitting, squirting sound.
That’s when it hit me. Well, actually, it hit the dogs. But the smell hit me: the unmistakable aroma of skunk.
The smell of freshly sprayed skunk juice is eye-wateringly intense. It is tasted, even with mouth tightly closed. It is something more felt than smelt. A wave of pure skunk stench chased me down and tackled me.
The two dogs backed up quickly, Lilah extricating herself a little faster than Jasper. But their investigation was incomplete, and the dogs were reluctant to leave it so; they stared intently at the rhododendron, which continued to emit more chirps and buzzes.
“JasperLilahCome!” The three words melded together into one desperate sound. “Now!”
Jasper’s tan muzzle and Lilah’s black snout turned in my direction. There was a dark spot between Jasper’s eyes where he must have taken a direct hit.
“Come!” With gritted teeth, I willed my two dogs to walk toward me, as I watched the little black-and-white intruder march out of the bushes behind them. He chittered, stamped his feet, and began to rotate like a tank turret preparing to take aim. Target identified. Ammunition locked and loaded.
I fought through the pungent stink the last few feet toward the dogs, grabbed them by their collars, and yanked them up onto our deck.
I looked over my shoulder and watched as Pepé le Pew sauntered with a rakishly proud waddle across my yard and under the fence.
“Brian!” I dragged a hundred pounds of reluctant dogs away from the edge of the deck toward the house. “Brian!” I tried kicking at the storm door. No response. My husband was probably on his way to bed.
I transferred both collars to one hand and pulled my cell phone out of my back pocket with the other. I muttered the “pick it up” prayer three times before he answered.
“What?” His usually laconic voice was clipped.
“The dogs have been skunked! Come. Down. Now.” I was reduced to giving dog commands to my husband.
When Brian stepped outside, he opened his mouth to speak — and then snapped it shut and stumbled back against the door.
“Exactly.” At least I had company in my misery.
“What do you want me to do?”
“We have to wash them with something. I don’t know. I have to go look it up. Here, you hold ‘em.” I tried to hand the recalcitrant dogs over.
Brian backed away. “Let me go get their leashes first.”
Once we made the exchange, I ran inside, booted up my laptop, and Googled “skunk recipe.”
The old tomato juice standby had apparently been replaced with a mixture that actually worked, one that included baking soda, dish soap, and hydrogen peroxide. “Luckily, these are items commonly found in many households,” one website offered.
That’s true for a quarter cup of baking soda and two teaspoons of soap. But to properly prepare the de-skunkifying brew, I needed one quart of hydrogen peroxide. Per dog. Per wash. “Apply to dog at least two times, with a fresh batch each time, until the smell is gone.”
Even my math-disabled and skunked-up brain could figure out that I needed gallons of hydrogen peroxide.
I ran downstairs and back outside, where Brian was standing as far away from Jasper and Lilah as he could while still holding their leashes.
“One of us has to go to the store.” Before I could finish, Brian had tossed the leashes over to me and was heading inside. “Get about six large bottles of peroxide.” The storm door slammed shut, and I yelled through it. “Comes in a brown bottle … should be near the alcohol and antibiotic creams.” I’m not sure he heard the last part; Brian had closed the door quickly and securely, with a sound vaguely reminiscent of an airlock.
I checked the time on my cell phone: 11:45 p.m. There weren’t any 24-hour drug stores nearby. The local grocery store closed at midnight. It was going to be close.
This was setting up to be a long night. I was going to be spending the next couple of hours mixing up buckets of skunk-away and washing two dogs in a warped version of lather, rinse, repeat.
I sat down on one of the chairs on our deck. The odiferous space invader was long gone, but the scent of the night’s adventure still hung heavily in the air. Maybe some of it had dissipated; either that or I was getting used to it. My eyes had stopped watering.
Jasper sighed and lay down, ears alert in case his investigative skills were needed again. Lilah settled next to him, her black fur causing her to disappear in the dark night, only to reappear when she opened her eyes and I could see them shine.
The air was warm, with just a hint of autumn creeping in to the end-of-summer atmosphere. Crickets and cicadas provided a soundtrack to the celestial show above us. A great horned owl called out in the distance.
Normally, I’d be in bed by now, checking my email one last time before retiring, and already thinking about the next day’s work. Instead, I was sitting outside on a beautiful evening, enjoying a companionable moment with two of my best friends.
Sometimes it takes a couple of stinky dogs to make you stop and smell the proverbial roses.
Has your dog ever been sprayed by a skunk? Tell us about it in the comments.
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About the author: Susan C. Willett is a writer, photographer, and blogger whose award-winning original stories, photography, poetry, and humor can be found at Life With Dogs and Cats. She lives in New Jersey with three dogs and four cats (all rescues) and at least a couple of humans — all of whom provide inspiration for her work. Refusing to take sides in the interweb’s dogs vs. cats debate, Susan enjoys observing the interspecies interaction among the varied inhabitants of her home — like living in a reality TV show, only furrier. In addition to Life With Dogs and Cats, you can find more Lilah, Jasper, and Tucker (and the rest of the gang) on Haiku by Dog™, Haiku by Cat™, and Dogs and Cats Texting.